Three and one-half months ago, students stayed up till all hours of the night packing, trying to figure out what to take with them to Jerusalem. A few had lost the packing list, so they were left to their own devices and a little bit of luck. Well, last night, students stayed up till all hours of the night, trying to figure out what to take home with them. The amazing thing is, this is my last blog entry on the Jerusalem Center. It has been a wonderful experience, and it's been fun lettin you know about it as well. The memories constantly flood into my mind, the visit to Haram-es-Shariff, the beautiful view from each balcony of the Center, the peace of Galilee. So, while I am writing this from my home computer, I will do my best to not make it melancholy. The experience was too wonderful to end it off that way.
I thought that, since I'm sure that future JC candidates are reading this page, I will focus on a few things that will be important to them. First of all, never go into a shop like an uneducated tourist and say, "Now, is this one of those shops where you bargain for things?" It gave me pain to see an elderly couple from the States walk in and say that. Invariably the shopkeeper will suppress a smile and say, "No, no, I give you good price here. No bargain." Just know that, except in grocery stores and the mall, price is always relative.
Second, yes, the food really is that good. Just beware of a few things, "Beef Tang" is incorrectly named, but surprisingly good. Use your imagination to figure out what it might be, then comment on it. :) The mixed grill is also quite good, as long as you don't contract the dreaded "Liver Shiver," or "Chicken Heart Bop," both coveted moves on a dance floor, not in the cafeteria. Aside from those two menu items, the rest is perfectly normal and, in my opinion, quite excellent. The showers...Wow. I hopped in the shower at my parent's house this morning and was sorely disappointed. The water pressure at the JC all but left me completely bald. Don't turn it on all the way the first time, ease yourself into the best showers anywhere.
You're going to be spending a lot of time with these people. I absolutely love everyone that was there with me and hope to be their friend for life. However, there were times that I needed to get away. Take those times. Go out on the lawn by the second level. Spend time in the Dome or the Biblical Garden. Hide out on your balcony, play your harmonica in the bomb shelter (that's what I did). You'll find that if you don't you'll have a much harder time being happy with all your friends. After you take that time, take the time to do things for the other people in the group. If they need to go somewhere, accompany them so they can. It may be hard at times, but you'll never regret helping a friend out.
Breanne White is credited with this idea. Every night at dinner she took the time to tell everyone at her table an attribute or trait that she admired about each of them. I personally think that it's a tradition that needs to live on. Breanne rarely missed a night, and we all benefited from it.
You'll hear this fifty times before you leave, but if there is one bit of advice that I'd give you, it would be to hold of on judgement of the local cultures and people. Don't base your opinion of different groups on the actions of a few individuals. My opinion of different groups there has changed drastically. I love Jewish people and they have been through trials a pain throughout the centuries. They have been misrepresented, but the greatest misrepresentation of today is that which is directed to the Arab people. I don't know if it is possible for me to love a group of people more than I do them. I admit that once or twice I may have had a bad experience with a few, but I can't even believe what I thought before I left for Jerusalem.
Most of Jerusalem is underground, and I mean that literally. Many of the stones that you walk on today are 12 to, in some cases, 50 feet above where people walked in the times of the Old and New Testament. Enjoy those trips to the different sites and be sure to take good notes. You'll thank yourself later. Some people hated the "Field Trip Notebooks," but I can't think of anything more useful than an entire notebook dealing with facts, scriptures, and personal impressions from each site.
The Jerusalem Experience is life-changing. I know that for me, quite beyond the changes in the social scene and ideas concerning current events, the most significant changes have come in my understanding of the scriptures. Ideas and concepts in the scriptures come alive when you see the land where they were written. You gain different insights that simply amaze, but more importantly, you gain a greater understanding and testimony of Jesus Christ as God's divine Son, our Savior, and our Redeemer. You also come to realize just how blessed you are to be a member of His church. You come to realize that you have a certain light about you that people immediately recognize. So my final advice is to go, learn, do, serve, and love. Your life, if you let it, will never be the same.